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Member Voices: The final piece in a comprehensive approach to Animal Welfare at Peoria Zoo

In this blog, Peoria Zoo curator Dawn Petefish describes the impact of first establishing a new Animal Welfare Plan — and later using ZIMS for Care and Welfare to streamline the way that staff record, review, monitor, and share animal care and welfare indicators.

Guest Author: Dawn Petefish, Curator of Collections, Peoria Zoo in Glen Oak Park

After reviewing our association accreditation standards, senior staff at Peoria Zoo felt that we needed to develop a new process for assessing and documenting animal welfare and wellness. Creating an Animal Welfare Plan to assess and document those assessments for every animal in the collection was overwhelming, to say the least.

Dawn Petefish, Curator of Collections, Peoria Zoo, says senior staff used ZIMS Care and Welfare to help establish a new Animal Welfare Plan that has “changed the way we operate.”

First, senior staff agreed upon an institutional animal welfare philosophy.  Our philosophy is based on Mellor and Beausoleil’s five domains model; Four physical domains including Nutrition, Environment, Physical Health and Behavior, and one Mental domain concerning negative and positive subjective experiences, which together give rise to an animal’s welfare status.

We continued our process by setting goals for our animal welfare assessment program.  The overriding goal was to operate a program that takes both a proactive and reactive transparent process to identify and evaluate animal welfare.

The reactive process was a little bit harder for us to develop.  Initially we tried to complete the same comprehensive evaluation for species/individuals that had experienced a facility or life event.  We found it difficult to complete a full evaluation with multiple evaluators each time one of these event occurred.

We tackled the proactive process first; senior staff developed a comprehensive evaluation form comprised of a series of welfare indicators under each of the five domains.  These comprehensive evaluations are scheduled monthly with multiple evaluators.  An in-house access database was created to capture, compile and compare these results. Final assessments from the in-house database are  then added to ZIMS using the Care and Welfare module templates. Luckily for us, the ZIMS Care and Welfare module is also built around the five domains model.

Adult red-tailed hawk “Skye” with Peoria Zoo educator Julie Brunton (Photo courtesy of Ron Johnson, Peoria Journal Star)

After reviewing the welfare indicators that were already available to us from Species360, along with the built in template system, one day everything just clicked and we realized that we were already recording and discussing welfare indicator information every day.  Keepers were already recording indicators like what percentage of the animal’s diet was consumed, fecal quality, weight, level of training engagement, changes in demeanor etc. We just weren’t calling them welfare indicators

We further realized that we were already asking the keepers and veterinary staff to record specific sets of indicators for specific situations; an animal in quarantine, an animal in a new enclosure, change in exhibit mate, etc. We just weren’t utilizing the Care and Welfare templates

Since the implementation of the Animal Welfare Plan is the responsibility of the Animal Management Team (AMT) and Peoria Zoo’s AMT already meets every morning to discuss husbandry, transfers and medical issues; welfare assessments are now a regular part of these daily discussions. We quickly developed standard sets of indicators to be recorded for animals in quarantine, those animals that lost an exhibit mate or those animals that had an existing injury. 

Black-and-Rufous Elephant Shrew at Peoria Zoo

The true beauty of the ZIMS Care and Welfare module templates is that each template can be customized for the individual animal and their individual situation.  In Peoria, we decided that the specific situation would dictate the frequency of the assessment records.  We require that some welfare indicators be recorded daily, some weekly, and some monthly based on the individual animal or situation.

Peoria Zoo, located 3 hours south of Chicago, is home to more than 100 species. The zoo provides countless educational programs for the public.

We also feel that it is extremely important for the keepers to review these indicator results on a regular basis. For this reason, we have created welfare indicator templates for the keepers in notes and observations and enabled the keepers to review indicator results on their Daily Reports. The information from the keeper’s note is then added to the Care and Welfare module, using individual care and welfare templates.

It probably goes without saying, that utilizing ZIMS to record this data certainly satisfies the last part of our goal to operate a program that is a transparent process to identify and evaluate animal welfare.  Utilizing the reporting function from ZIMS Care and Welfare allows us to share and review indicator results.

We have been operating within the our new and improved plan for a few months now. I can say without question, that Animal Welfare indicators are now discussed and reviewed daily. 

Requests for new indicators to be recorded may come from anyone on staff; often veterinary staff, curatorial staff, or keeper staff.  The flexibility of the ZIMS Care and Welfare module has been an integral part in developing our comprehensive plan for promoting optimal animal welfare.

I would like to thank all 23 of the facilities that supported the creation of the Care and Welfare module, it has truly changed the way we operate.

Author Dawn Petefish is Curator of Collections for Peoria Zoo in Glen Oak Park, Illinois, U.S.A. We are grateful to Dawn and the team of senior staff at Peoria Zoo for your work on behalf of wildlife, and for sharing insights with the Species360 community.

If you would like to contribute an article on Animal Care and Welfare, Animal Husbandry, Veterinary, Studbooks, and Conservation topics for the Species360 blog, please contact us at

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